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Missouri's Gov. Parson Calls for $860M to Widen I-70

Wed February 01, 2023 - Midwest Edition #3
Summer Ballentine and David A. Lieb ASSOCIATED PRESS

(Office of Missouri Governor Mike Parson photo)
(Office of Missouri Governor Mike Parson photo)

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) Missouri Gov. Mike Parson called on state lawmakers to set aside nearly $860 million to widen and improve traffic flow on Interstate 70 in his annual State of the State address Jan. 18.

The massive investment in I-70 is part of a nearly $52 billion budget proposal unveiled by the Republican. The rough plan for I-70 includes widening the highway in suburban Kansas City, the Columbia area and suburban St. Louis near Wentzville, where the road is notorious for congestion.

The hope also is to get rid of a tangle of traffic lights at the intersection of I-70 and U.S. 63 in Columbia, Missouri Transportation Department Director Patrick McKenna told reporters before Parson's address. He said the traffic lights could be replaced with ramps to make switching highways smoother.

"Not only are we concerned for the motorists' safety, these inefficiencies are costly to our state's economy, and we must invest to improve I-70," Parson said. "For those who say we can't afford it, I say we cannot afford not to."

Proposals have existed for years to widen I-70 from two to three lanes in each direction across the entire state, but Missouri has never had the money to do it.

Parson's plan would tap into the state's historic budget surplus to accomplish a portion of that. It would widen more than 50 mi. of roadway in suburban St. Louis, suburban Kansas City and Columbia while also improving a bottleneck interchange at I-70 and U.S. 63. That would still leave around 140 mi. of rural I-70 with two lanes in each direction.

By focusing on the most congested areas, the proposal would create "a much more reliable I-70 for the next couple of decades," McKenna said.

But it could take a few years for construction to begin, because the state first may need to obtain additional land, relocate utilities and design the road, McKenna said.

In response to a deadly Amtrak train crash in northern Missouri last year, Parson budgeted $35 million for safety upgrades to railroad crossings across the state. Four people died and dozens more were injured when the Amtrak train collided with a pickup truck near Mendon last June.

"We learned the hard way that we must do more to improve transportation safety," Parson said.

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